Interview: Brie Larson and John Gallagher Talk SHORT TERM 12

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The story of Short Term 12 is one that is absolutely cultivated by the actors who bring these incredibly complex and delicate characters to life.  Film Pulse’s Gina Kelly recently got the chance to sit down with Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now)  and John Gallagher (The Newsroom) to discuss “the perfect storm of talent and good karma” that put this film in the spotlight.

Let’s start simple…What brought the two of you to this project?  Its an interesting question because it seems to be outside of what you have experience doing…

Brie Larson- Yeah, it’s true.  Well, the script was emailed to me while I was shooting The Spectacular Now and it was just the best script! It was such a clear example of when things are very realized and jump out on the page without pushing anything onto you.  I was terrified that Destin would find me unqualified to play the role because you’re right, nothing I had done was even remotely close to this…but I knew that I could do it.  I was scared of the fact that I knew, which is a strange feeling to have such a strange intuition and pull in knowing that you’re maybe the only person who can really tell this story, and it takes trusting yourself to do it and see what the result is and if intuition should be trusted.  I guess I learned it should be.

I wanted Dustin to know that I was interested in telling this story accurately, and that I really cared about the sensitivity of the material, so I applied for three volunteer positions and told that to him while we had a Skype call (while I was auditioning for the part).  While that was something that impressed him, I didn’t tell him that I was rejected from all three jobs (laughs).

John, can you top that?

John Gallagher- No, no, definitely I couldn’t (laughs), but, I had a very similar experience.  In about 13 years of being sent different scripts to read, of all of the scripts that I read as an auditioning actor, there’s not a doubt in my mind that Short Term 12  was absolutely the best script that I’d ever read.  It was all there on the page and it only took me about 3 pages to know that it was something so special and unique.  I would have jumped through any number of hoops to become involved because it just seemed like something really amazing.  Then I found out Brie was involved, I watched the short film that it was based on, and I Skyped with Destin and found that every new piece of information I got about it made it even more enticing and interesting.  I also try to work on films that I would want to watch, and I knew this was one I would definitely be really interested in.  That’s the kind of stuff I want to do and be involved it.  I got so lucky that Destin felt like I was the person for the role.

Did either of you have any awareness about the at-risk youth foster program in California?

BL- Hmm, I think I was aware of it in about the same capacity that most people are aware of it.  I mean I knew that it existed, and it seemed like a very sad situation, but I didn’t know what it would look like to be on the floor with those kids.

You hear a lot about the wrongs of the system in art in film.  How important was it to show kind of the positives of the system?  You really show that these two people have their own experiences with it, either with the system itself or through a broken childhood.  

BL- That was really the beauty of the script. Destin is nonjudgmental, and I think that’s what he really brought as his point of view to this film.  Which is unique because something that you will feel the second that you get into one of these facilities is that you want to fix it.  The closer you get to it and the more deeply you dive into it you realize how complicated [fixing it] is because every hurt child is not hurt in the same way.  Each kid is such a specific example of something that they need, and they need that specifically from both of us.  The way Grace has to use a dry sense of humor and a squirt gun to get Luis out of bed is much different than the mothering, even ethereal figure, for Sammy.

Did it make you reflect on being parents in any way?

JG- I hope I can be even half as loving, caring, and supportive as my character is in the film…that was something for me that was really amazing to learn from that character.  [He’s all] about patience, nurture, and understanding.  I just feel like it was inspiring to get to know the characters in the film, people that really take care of each other and look out for each other in a lot of very selfless ways.  It’s very overwhelming to see characters like that and to know that that is real, there are people out there like that.

BL- I was so concerned when playing Grace of being this authority figure, so concerned of being too much…that it wouldn’t come across.  It makes more sense to me now even as I watch the film, I realize that love comes in many different forms and sometimes it comes in a firmer tone and I didn’t know that it could work that way.  I suddenly had this epiphany where I would say to myself “oh my gosh, the times that my mom grounded me…it finally makes sense to me! (laughs).”  I felt like I grew up doing this film.

Some really amazing relationships and chemistries are at work in this film, especially between Brie and Kaitlyn…this film really rises and falls around that relationship.  How you go about establishing the report that you have?  

BL- Yes, well, Kaityn and I actually had time to kind of pal around in Georgia.  We didn’t have any scenes together but we both were there for the beginning of shooting and there was a lot of cast dinners and we were staying at the same hotel…so the ice was broken for us already.  We kind of lucked out in the fact that we really identified with each other.  I really just loved her and I love what she has to say and I just really respect her so much as an artist,  and I think that made her feel good.  The fact that I’m older than her and I respect her, I think, helped her feel more confident and I saw a lot of myself in her when I was her age and I wanted to do what she’s doing.  I wanted to go to those dark deep places and I wanted to do it because I loved the craft and I didn’t really understand why but it was just what I wanted to do.  She listens to great music and we just really related.  That’s just magic, it’s chance.  I mean, we are these two artists that relate on this really abstract level and I considered her to be a friend.  I think the mutual respect just shows.  When you have that, that allows both parties to feel comfortable to just expose themselves because neither of us felt judged or that we had to prove anything to one another, we had already accepted each other.

After all of the film festivals you have gone to, are you at all surprised at the reactions you’ve been getting?

JG- Yeah, I mean I think you always take such a leap of faith when you get involved in independent film, it’s something that you have to believe in the beginning, but you have no idea what the outcome is going to be.  You don’t know who is going to see it or if anyone is going to see it or if it’s even going to be released.  Going to SXSW and kicking things off there, it was really overwhelming to see how people responded to it.  It was really amazing too, mostly because I still didn’t know what we had at that point.  I had only seen it once before we started going to festivals, I watched a cut of it at a color correcting studio, so it was a small screen and the sound was not very good.  It was the first time I had watched it, so I was feeling all sorts of strange feelings about seeing it all put together for the first time…but, going to see it with an audience, and feeling the energy, and seeing the way people responded and what they were laughing at or what they were getting choked up by, that was incredible.  So it’s just been a joy, and it doesn’t always work this way, and so you really have to be thankful, and try to enjoy it.  Being able to have something that is moving and touching people, and also something that is moving and touching us still a year after we shot it, sharing it with people is just as much of a gift as making it.

This is very much a passion project for Destin.  How does that effect the way he works with the two of you as you are in the midst of it?

JG- For Someone who has such a specific hand, and is in control, he’s not a control freak.  There was never this vibe of “this is my vision! everyone has to get it right!” he never claimed to be the one who knew it all.  I remember times where he’d say, “Well that’s the way I wrote the line, so if that doesn’t feel good coming out of your mouth and you have something you’d like to try, go ahead.”  He’s very collaborative.

BL- I never felt like I was told not to do anything.  I mean, there were times where he would ask me a question and I would think about it and come to a conclusion and then think I had gotten the result all by myself when in reality Destin had been the spark for it.  He cast us because he believed we were the experts on these characters, and so we were allowed to be the experts.

Could you compare that style of working against your other experiences with episodic television and theater?  What kind of freedom were you able to have in this film?

JG-It’s such a joy to have 20 days to work on something in an environment that feels very free and easy, and even though it gets heated because you are sometimes going into some very intense places, it always blew my mind that it was just a really fun set to be on.  We all had a really really good time shooting it.  Also, we didn’t have the luxury to shoot a bunch of takes of everything because we were on a pretty tight schedule so we had to keep things moving.

BL- We were actually two days ahead of schedule for a very very long time!  Which was nice because it gave us the luxury of shooting more on certain things.

JG- Right, being able to try things a couple ways is something that you have to really enjoy when you have the opportunity because you don’t always have this collaborative ease to it.  I’m new to television too, but with that things really have to stay on a schedule and it’s much more quick and there’s not a lot of room for being able to do rehearsals where you’re able to sit around and talk about motivations and things…it moves very fast.  Sometimes you have to just give yourself over to that to be able to keep in pace with it.  This film though, it was really just a joy and if I had my way in life, it’s really the way I wish I could do everything.  It really was just a perfect storm of talent and good karma.

Going back to the script for just a moment, one of the things I found so incredible about this film is that you have Destin, this young male writer/director, writing so naturally for a female perspective.  He also doesn’t polarize the genders in this film at all even though there are some pretty specific female experiences.  Did you have a role in developing that naturalism or was that just evident in the script?

BL-Yeah, I mean, that’s true, and really, it was all just there when I received it, which was incredible.  I think that you could probably say that this was one of those great moments that writers talk about where you don’t write gender specific, you just write a person (laughs).  I guess, other than the fact that she is pregnant, Grace could have easily been a male character, and I think I like that about it.  I found her to be unspecific in many ways, and I have been so impressed and proud of the fact that I have had every shape/size/gender come up to me and say “I’m Grace” and it’s shocking.  One that really moved me was when Keith, who plays Marcus, his mother came up to me and said this and I felt so moved to feel that from somebody who is a mother and is a completely different walk of life than me.  To feel connected in that way and to have people identify with her, not because she’s a girl, but because she has these feelings and this internal conflict and struggle, and feels scared to try or ask for help, I think that that’s really incredible.

I agree, I think its a stunning part of the piece in general…

BL-Yeah, I think so too.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but its interesting how the art piece has a life of its own after it’s done.

Short Term 12 is hitting theaters August 23rd. Here’s the trailer: